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From 0 to 100,000 Users in 4 Months: The Story Behind Productivity Chrome Extension Momentum

By Danny Schreiber · February 11, 2014
momentum-levi-bucsis-interview primary img

It began with an Instagram photo. Got a boost from reddit. And after some blog love, it started to pick up steam in the Chrome Web Store.

Since its launch last October, the Momentum app has attracted 100,000 users. Collectively, those users have entered over 3 million items in the app’s todo list.

On its surface, the Momentum app is a simple productivity app that lets you keep a to-do list atop a stunning nature photo. But when you begin to use Momentum, it has a peculiar way of creeping into your workflow, constantly reminding you of what’s important that day.

That is, after all, it’s intention.

"Every time you open a new tab, see an inspiring reminder of what you want to accomplish," reads Momentum’s description. "It might just prevent you from loading reddit or Facebook for the tenth time."

Levi Bucsis, creator of the Momentum app

At Zapier, more than half of our team uses Momentum. We’re big fans.

So when I reached out to the creator of Momentum, Levi Bucsis, and he agreed to an interview, I made the most of the opportunity. The following is 16-question email interview with Bucsis that covers the origin of Momentum, the creation of the apps, how he’s reacted to its reception, what he sees for the app's future and how he stays productive himself. And, of course, I ask him where he gets all the gorgeous photos.

The Story Behind the Momentum App

Zapier: How would you describe Momentum?

Levi Bucsis: Momentum is a personal dashboard. It's a homepage replacement for Chrome that is intended to inspire and focus you throughout your work day. It greets you by name with an inspiring photo and quote along with the practical stuff like the time and weather. You can put in a focus for the day so every time you open a tab throughout the day to procrastinate you're reminded of your own commitment.

We've heard Momentum described as the place you go to remember who you are. We like that description. With the overwhelming tide of content and opinion that is the internet, it's nice to have a quiet place to remind us who we are and where we're going.

What’s the story behind your Momentum app? How did it come about? When did it launch?

Momentum grew out of my work life which is often remote, as I work freelance and in startups. I wanted to create something to support me throughout the day to make it a bit easier to get fired up and stay focused.

I've always loved the idea of a personal dashboard in the vein of some of the crazy interfaces seen in movies. One morning I woke up with an idea, designed it in Photoshop, and posted that afternoon to Instagram (below). My buddy Jesse, a long time collaborator of mine, saw the idea and loved it. He did the initial legwork in implementing the idea, and then we both got busy and it sat on the shelf for about 6 months. I hadn't even installed his prototype, so for a long time he was the only user! My schedule finally cleared up and I polished it and added features to get it ready for launch. We figured we'd throw it up on the Chrome app store early and see what kind of feedback and interest we got. We have been more than a little surprised at the response!

an early prototype of the Momentum app

How did you launch Momentum? Did you do anything to promote it initially?

We started with a soft launch in the beginning of October to give us a chance to get some feedback and catch any glaring bugs. At first it was just friends and the odd person that found it on the Chrome store. After about a month I posted a comment to an r/productivity thread and it caught fire from there. A website in India picked us up and another in Norway, and then CNET, and then it just exploded.

the Momentum app in the news

Why do you think Momentum's caught on so much? Did you get featured early on?

I think people crave software that speaks to them as humans not as machines. But really, maybe it's just the nice photos. :)

We weren't featured on the Chrome Store as far as I know. At first the growth came from being featured on various tech news websites on the web and now social media has taken hold.

What’s been your reaction to its high usage thus far?

At first it was shock and bewilderment. It can be a bit daunting to have the firehose of the internet flowing back into you, so I'm very grateful to have support from my team and friends to share the load with. It's very humbling to see that it has struck a chord with so many people. It's also emboldened me to trust more in that voice inside me where ideas come from.

The Momentum app goes viral

Do you care that it’s popular or did you build it just to scratch your own itch? Who did you think would benefit from it?

Honestly, I was scratching my own itch. Even in the early days working on the concept with Jesse (although it's still early days), I would fall back on what I thought would be cool to use rather than how it was done now. I was happy to simply have it to use for myself.

Is Momentum a full-time commitment or side project?

I would love to work full time on Momentum. For now we do it in our spare time between contracts and working on our other products. We have a far-reaching vision for Momentum and it would be a dream come true to have the resources to pursue it.

On Building a Chrome Extension and Keeping it Simple

What was the hardest part of building a Chrome extension? What was something surprising you learned?

The biggest surprise came from when we added the weather feature. We lost over 50 percent of users overnight. Turns out Chrome disables extensions when their permissions change, and we had added geolocation so that the weather would just work. We thought Chrome would have at least asked to approve the permission before disabling. Oops! Otherwise Chrome is relatively easy to develop for. The APIs are documented, there are plenty of examples to refer to, and the Chrome Store gives you a head start on distribution.

The Momentum app in the Chrome store

It’s such a simple app but I bet you have tons of conflicting requests to extend it, right? How will you choose how to add features without ruining the simplicity? Is there a way to even do that? There’s a chance that you just built a perfectly simple thing that does one thing well.

For me, the Momentum app is a focus/inspiration/productivity tool because that's what I need, so it's customized for me right now. However other people have other needs, and we like the idea of users making Momentum more personal experience for them. We have a lot of widget ideas in mind for people to enable and add to the dashboard. We consider the minimalism to be one of the defining qualities of the app so anything we do add will keep that in mind.

A good example of conflicting requests is some people want a Google Search right on the app, and then others say, "Whatever you do don't add a Google Search. It's Chrome, just use the omnibar!"

Have you thought about adding a nighttime version? "Good evening – what did you do today?" Or "what do you want to do tomorrow?"

That's one of my highest priorities right now actually, improving the focus widget. I'd like to add closure to the day. I don't like when Momentum keeps talking to me at midnight like I'm still working for the day. Let me rest, geez!

I'd also like to expose a long term goal somehow, so the focus for the day is set in light of the long term goal.

How did you decide which features are included currently and going forward, what you’ll add?

So far we've been experimenting with the general concept and keeping the feature offering low. Right now I consider Momentum maybe 5 percent complete in terms of our vision for it.

Going forward a priority is to add widgets and integrations so people can do things like time tracking or see metrics that are meaningful to them. The todo list widget was added on a whim and it has been well adopted, with over 2.5 million todos created so far. Some people don't use it, so we'd also like to add a way to disable unused widgets and add new ones.

One thing I'd like to add is a focus mode. I tend to keep a billion tabs open, so it'd be nice if I could easily clean my workspace and bring those tabs back up later when I'm done working for the day.

How do you select the serene photos? I noticed they aren’t credited, where do they come from?

By amazingness! The photo selections are inspired by my travels and enjoying the beautiful Pacific northwest. We have a lot of requests for adding background uploads, so in a way these are the photos that I would upload to my own customized version of Momentum.

We found many of the photos on interfacelift.com. I'm surprised there isn't more interactive software out there to enjoy the all the amazing photography that's being uploaded to the web every day. There so much content and so many amazing places on Earth, it's strange that we only have a default selection of 10 or so images on our phones and desktops to choose from.

beautiful backgrounds for the Momentum app

On the Creator’s Own Productivity Techniques

How do you personally use Momentum? Has it changed your habits at all?

My favourite part is being greeted by name with a new photo every day. It's simple little changes that make computers seem more human.

Outside of Momentum, what productivity technique is most important to you?

Always follow your passion. That notion gets nay-sayed a lot but our passion is the fuel for everything we do. The further something is from our passion, the more friction created by doing it and the less fulfilling the outcome. When you look at the lives of those who have created the life they want to live, it's the norm rather than the exception that they followed their passion to get there.

That, and take breaks. Shower, walk, nap, whatever. Consciously thinking about a problem too much can get in the way of coming up with a good solution. When we take a step back then our minds can really work with the problem to come up with a good solution.

The Momentum app at work

What’s a productivity technique or common wisdom that you disagree with strongly? Momentum seems like a counterpoint to the GTD-inspired and feature-heavy tools like Omnifocus or Asana.

The notion that we always need to be busy. When I worked in an office I actively resisted the "looking like I am busy at all times" behaviour that tends to emerge and I still caught myself doing it. Now that I'm on my own a main goal has been to work smarter, not harder. Sometimes the most productive thing to do is to do the furthest thing from work, particularly for knowledge and creative workers. We are moving ever closer to an always on society, and an appreciation of downtime will emerge to balance that.

How do minimalism and productivity relate? Work together?

Minimalism to me reflects the quality of a calm state of mind. A calmer, more focused mind is more productive. Also, productivity solutions tend to need more structure as teams get bigger, but they should never be more complicated than they need to be.

Find Levi Bucsis online: website, Twitter and Instagram

You might also like this interview: "Unroll.Me’s Quest to Revolutionize Email: Co-Founder Josh Rosenwald on Inbox Problems, Productivity and Marketing"

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